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New veteran employment research has highlighted the main challenges faced by veterans in securing and retaining employment after they leave the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Results propose management strategies that could be developed to support veterans through this transition.

The study was led by Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation Principal Investigator, Dr Madeline Romaniuk, who said research into veteran employment was vital to understanding the factors that contribute to the difficulties that veterans face in obtaining and retaining civilian employment.

This study explored the challenges of 35 Australian veterans in civilian employment settings post-discharge, with four significant themes emerging:

  1. Starting over: finding and applying for civilian jobs, including finding meaningful work, starting at the bottom again, and difficulty translating military skills.
  2. Mental health: the impact of mental health in civilian employment, including perceived discrimination, and impaired functioning.
  3. Interpersonal cultural difficulties: summarises the challenges of communicating with, and working alongside civilian colleagues. These include different language and communication styles, lack of teamwork and focus on the individual, misperceptions of military service and variation in work ethic and professionalism.
  4. Organisational differences: considers the variations between military and civilian organisational systems particularly, lack of structure, role ambiguity, and lack of feedback.

“These themes highlight the need for evidence-based ‘transition to employment’ initiatives to target factors affecting not just obtaining employment initially, but also employment retention among veterans,” said Dr Romaniuk.

From the key findings, Dr Romaniuk recommended 4 initiatives that aim to address unemployment and under-employment for veterans:

“These initiatives should focus on preparedness, education, and expectation management for both veterans and civilian employers and colleagues,” said Dr Romaniuk.

Such initiatives may include:

  1. Assistance for veterans in translation and communication of military skills to civilian environments, and education for civilian employers regarding the military skillsets of veterans.
  2. Education about civilian workplaces for veterans with a particular focus on the interpersonal and organisation cultural differences they may encounter, including structure, teamwork, role clarity and feedback.
  3. Assistance for civilian employers to support veteran employee management through the provision of resources that inform them of structure, teamwork, role clarity and feedback within the workplace.
  4. Education for civilian workplaces who employ ex-service personnel in the areas of military culture, mental health, and reduction of mental health stigma.

This was the first study to utilise phenomenology, which is the study of lived experience, to interview ADF veterans about transitioning out of military services into civilian life, including experiences of civilian employment.

This research was funded by RSL Queensland. Troy Watson RSL Queensland Deputy CEO – Veteran Services says, “RSL Queensland is proud to partner with Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation and fund this important piece of research.

“Whether veterans are transitioning into civilian life or relocating, we know that finding meaningful employment is crucial in helping create purpose and direction. Our award-winning RSL Queensland Employment Program recognises this and helps veterans and Defence partners secure employment through career counselling, application assistance, interview coaching, and connections with potential employers.

“Our aim is to connect veterans with long-term, meaningful employment, and to help employers tap into the talent pool of veterans who are ready to work.

“RSL Queensland remains committed to investing in research, targeted programs and proven initiatives to make the transition from service to civilian life as easy, smooth and accessible as possible.”

The article ‘Obtaining and retaining employment post military service: A qualitative analysis of challenges experienced by Australian veterans’ was published in the Journal of Employment Counselling on 2 August 2022.

Learn more about our veteran health research.